I knew it 7 miles into a 25 mile trail race I ran the summer of 2016. Way too early in a grueling non supported (no aid stations) trail race run mostly above 9500’ elevation. My legs just didn’t have any snap to them. Over the next 18 miles I had plenty of time to review why my legs were dragging so early in this race. I believe I found the answer somewhere between mile 17 and the finish.
From our exercise science labs we know so much about conditioning the human body for maximum performance. The science clearly indicates the need for an aerobic base that once established allows us to then stress our VO2 max / CV system using a mix of alternating aerobic and anaerobic workouts. Used with moderation this has proven very effective in distance running. Guess Lydiard, Bowerman and other early distance running coaches (pioneers) were on to something. However there hasn’t been as much written about a training component that recognized as a valuable tool will ultimately impact your performance in a positive way. The issue? Rest.
What do we know about rest? We know when we don’t get enough. We know it is important but so much remains to be understood about the timing, how much, what type, etc. Exercise science lab data typically reveals more of the glamorous side of training, interval sessions, repetitions, length of training session, training cycles, etc. The Last Frontier; rest, is a study of itself. Too often the tell-tale signs begin to show up in declining performances. Or at mile 7 in a 25 mile mountain trail race.
Just as it is easy to recognize value in training theory, schedules, intervals, long runs, hills, speed work, etc., I would encourage you to recognize appropriate rest and recovery as just as valuable. Sure there are biometric markers to use (blood values) to assess when to back off or when to go hard. But very few of us have access to such diagnostic tests. So use what you have available; resting / exercise heart rate, your stop watch, general life attitude, fatigue, etc. Don’t buy into the temptation convincing yourself that rest or even taking a break (long or short) will serve as a disadvantage to your training and race performance. How much, when and why are up to you, your fitness level, chronological/athletic age, performance objectives, career maturation, training cycle, calendar and yes life demands. Not an exact scientific formula to follow but dependent on all the above to determine your rest cycles. With experience you will learn the early signs of needing to take a rest break. Ignore these signs and you will ultimately slow down. Observe each and your running will continue to improve. And you will have fun along the way!
Why were my legs dragging early in the mountain trail race I ran this summer? Very simply – I didn’t time my rest and recovery correctly. I missed the mark when I set my workout schedule and ran my last big load (read a lot of ascent and descent running over 3 + hours) too close to the actual race. Note to self – adjust accordingly! Lesson learned.
Until next time – enjoy the run!
Photo: My daughter Sarah and I on an early morning training run atop Hyalite Peak, 10,299′, Gallatin National Forest, summer 2016.